It happened one calm, late November day in 2003. We finished stowing the last of our provisions, climbed aboard our trawler at the Shoreline Yacht Club in Long Beach, California, threw off the dock lines and headed south down the coast of Southern California on the first leg of our 15,000 mile voyage into the unknown. Few people ever get to realize the success of their dreams, and we felt truly blessed that we had begun ours. For us, our dream of cruising encompassed getting our own boat, preparing ourselves technically, and heading out on the oceans of the world, relinquishing those self imposed confinements of feeling comfortable and safe with those things familiar, and searching for new places and new adventures to enjoy together. Looking back, I now believe the dream itself can actually change your life and should not be trivialized by any of those who haven't yet had their dream come to fruition. We were sharing our dream from the first moment we said, "Let's do it. Let's get a boat". And having a shared dream can be such a rush in itself. What Lynn and I have to present here is a story that proves not only that you don't have to be a long time expert at boating to realize the dream of cruising, but that just because you are over 50 doesn’t mean that life's adventure is over either. For us, it has just begun.
NOT THE USUAL DREAM
The dream of cruising is not new and I've read many an inspiring story on the web and in magazines of couples who had dreamed about getting a boat and sailing away, and many stories of those who made it. I’ve been intrigued, and inspired, and I’ve sometimes had tears in my eyes, although, as a guy, I won’t admit that, so don't tell. Most of the stories I’ve read involved one or both of the couple having had some or considerable experience with boating for many years, and dreamed of some day sailing away. Ahh, now that is romantic. However, our dream of cruising materialized a little differently than most, but we think no less inspiring to those in similar shoes to ours. This story is encouragement for all who long to cruise away, but if you’re over 50, its inspiration.
You see, Lynn and I had both been married twice before we met. We were both at the young age of 50, and had no boating experience whatsoever between us. We were both disillusioned about the romance in life, and having both failed twice in finding a life partner that we could succeed in building a dream, we were somewhat stifled of inspiration. But when you are blessed, as somehow we came to be, and find that special person who completes your being, and makes everything you do simply another step in the wonderful voyage of life, a shared dream can be almost anything. And Lynn and I had no idea ours would turn out to be cruising.
Lynn and I met in 1997, and knew quite soon that we would be together forever. I told her that I truly believed that if we as a couple could find a strong common interest to share, that our relationship would flourish and strengthen and make our lives together even richer. Lynn not only shared this sentiment, but made a real commitment with me to see to it that we found that common interest. So with this agreement, we set the idea aside for the time being and just enjoyed our new companionship. Then after several trips with her aboard her friends’ boat to Catalina, that infamous and romantic island off the coast of Southern California, I saw that there was a common interest here that we might share. Although neither of us knew anything about boats or boating, I suggested we get a boat and learn. We began with a 29 foot planing power boat, and enjoyed the trips to Catalina together. Over the next couple of years, gradually the dream evolved, and the more we learned about boating the more adventure we wanted. And this need for more adventure finally evolved into what became known to us as ‘long range cruising’.
After we fell into the 'Cruise into the Sunset' mode, we became aware in our readings that most of the cruising 'failures' we read about tended to be because the dream was shared mainly by only one of the couple. But we knew that we both were committed equally to making our cruising dream come true. And when you consider the cruising life, a true partnership may be the key to success in building that dream. It’s truly amazing what can be accomplished when you both are truly committed to the same dream.
Like all those who discuss their dream and plan on making it come true, the real test is making it happen. I talk to people all the time who say they wish they could do what we did. And I don't know how many are just saying this, or how many really cannot take the right steps to make it happen. Lynn and I somehow made it happen. I have to admit to being a bit of a romantic. This is reflected in my obsession with what I have come to call, ‘the cruisers litany’. When I first read it, before we ever obtained our cruising trawler, I immediately began to feel this tugging at my inner clock and a sense of time running out. I didn't feel old, but this poem made me feel like time was rushing at me more quickly than before. Here’s the litany that I am referring.
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed
by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
I still get goose bumps when I read it. I'm sure many of you have read it in other cruisers' chronicles. But I have accepted it as my own litany, so I'm not really influenced by how many others it inspires. It inspires me. I have added it to my Cruising Page as inspiration to those who may need that extra push. When I first read this it staggered my sense of cautiousness, and I was forced to reevaluate my obsession with waiting until everything was just right. It is amazing what can be a trigger to energize your sense of adventure and ease that need to stay inside your comfort zone. Every time I read this it is a revitalization of my commitment to cruising. I was thinking about this poem one day while bobbing at anchor at Catalina Island in our small coastal cruiser and it hit me what I really needed to do to get over that sense of time running out. This poem was what finally pushed me over the edge, start encouraging Lynn to take her retirement, and just quit my job and begin the plan to go cruising.
That’s when Lynn and I began to research in earnest the requirements for our adventure. First, we decided, we had to have the correct boat. We began to read and talk to others for ideas and direction. We concluded the formulation of our plan after many months of research into the style and function of different types of cruising designs and those that might fall into the level of our affordability. We came to the conclusion that there were two basic choices of a boat for us; a 30 foot plus sailboat, or a 40 foot plus full displacement power boat, specifically, a trawler. Because we had power experience and knew nothing of sailing, and physically we were at an age where our lack of experience at sailing may prove beyond our abilities, we chose the power. Our plans had us acquiring a boat in 2003. But how many times have you read this scenario. A boat came on the market that more than met all our requirements and was just too good a deal to pass up. We scraped together the money and acquired our 1970 46' DeFever Alaskan trawler. Over the next year, we fixed it up to our specifications, we both completed courses in navigation, weather, diesel maintenance, boat safety, and seamanship, and both acquired our HAM radio licenses. We then planned our retirement which Lynn was qualified for after 25 years in nursing, but I was not. However, I just knew we had to do this before we both got beyond our dream, so as Lynn came near to her retirement date, I decided to take early "retirement" bonus and invest it as retirement pay, and we took off on our journey. Two years later, having completed 15,000 miles and sharing more adventures and creating more memories than you can imagine, I can only say that the cruising life is truly one of constant adventure, vivid memories, and the constant intensity of shared experiences. We couldn’t have found a better interest to share with each other. As I write this we are back home and trying to accumulate a cruising kitty to sail off again. We enjoy our children and our grandchildren immensely when we are home. But the thrill of being alone, out on the water, anticipating the next new cove, the next new people we will meet, and the next adventure of discovery, is just too romantic to ignore.
We hope our experiences are helpful, and "We wish all of you who cruise, fair weather, and may the wind always be at your back. But we know better, and that's just part of the adventure."©
Les and Lynn Cotton
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